A couple queer TV recommendations

I've been swimming in good TV this past month and there's more on the way (please ... new season of Great British Bake-Off...). But there are two shows I want to recommend purely on the basis of their starring or featuring queer women characters!

They both pretty dark, but they delighted me so if you're into dark shit you might like them too.

Killing Eve

BBCA | 8 episodes

Killing Eve follows Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), an MI5 agent who has a lil' obsession with female assassins. There aren't that many! Exciting! She's thrown immediately and delightfully into conflict with Villanelle (Jodie Comer) a ... female assassin! Of particular viciousness!

As Caroline Framke wrote for Vox:

It feels too cutesy — or at the very least, too reductive — to call the meticulous, curious, and even sexy way Eve and Villanelle circle each other a “cat-and-mouse game.” If anything, both are cats — Eve domestic, Villanelle feral — recognizing the other from across a crowded room, slinking around the edges, waiting to see who pounces first.

eve_killingeve.jpg

Killing Eve is dark and violent, but it's also got a perfect edge of humor to it. The characters are funny and awkward, and Sandra Oh in particular has an everywoman clumsiness that is endearing as hell.

Oh wait, what makes this queer? Villanelle is multisexual, as revealed very early in the series. She's also obsessed with Eve. And as pointed out by one of Eve's coworkers in the second episode, Eve's intensity in her pursuit of Villanelle crosses the line from professional to something else. The way it plays out could easily have fallen into a creepy evil lesbian trope, but in my experience I found that Killing Eve neatly avoided it. Maybe I was just too enthused to see such a character as unapologetically self-possessed, ruthless, and amoral as Villanelle.

All in all, I'm just thrilled that there's a spy thriller all about competent women who are fucking obsessed with each other.

Picnic At Hanging Rock

Amazon Prime | 6 episodes

The 2018 adaptation of the eponymous 1967 has had to deal with the specter of what I'm told is a very good film, also called Picnic At Hanging Rock from 1975. The film was called "languorous, woozy, dipped in honey," by Rachel Syme at the New Republic (that link LARGE spoilers for all versions of Hanging Rock), and the Amazon series ... well, it's about as over the top as a show can be.

And I fucking love it.

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The colors are bonkers, the costumes elaborate and beautiful. There's at least one scene that I was convinced was a dream sequence because it was so unreal, but nope! It wasn't! It's so visually compelling that I find it hard to look away. Everything is drama, beauty, and strangeness turned up to 11.

The story is about a group of boarding school girls who go on a Valentine's Day picnic in 1900. The picnic is at a natural formation called Hanging Rock, and during the day a group of girls climb the rock and go missing. The rest of the story is spent trying to uncover what happened to them.

If you like mysteries, hints of the supernatural, and generous shots of girls in corsets touching each other, this is the show for you! I especially enjoyed the interactions between the clique of girls who climb the rock. The dynamic between them reminded me of the main characters from Libba Bray's A Great And Terrible Beauty. We get the sense that these are the popular, powerful girls in the school — the ones that are pretty or smart or rich and that you otherwise don't want to fuck with. But at the same time we see how protective they are of each other, and how vulnerable they ultimately are. They're young women shipped off to school with a cruel headmistress, expected to conform — or suffer the consequences.

I liked that the show respected that complex duality — power and vulnerability — of these young women. Picnic is one of those stories where you get the sense no one is going to leave happily, but you can enjoy the buttload of sexual tension and implication and longing along the way.

Additional reading:

Killing Eve:

  • Killing Eve had "better viewership gains than any scripted show has seen in a decade." - Wired
  • "If executed poorly, [Killing Eve] could have fallen prey to age-old issues dealing with LGBTQ representation on-screen, like queerbaiting or male-fantasy lesbianism. Yet even with its shocking finale this weekend, Killing Eve escaped those criticisms entirely, thanks to a few specific choices" - The Verge (MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE SEASON)
  • "21 Times “Killing Eve” Depicted Lesbian Relationship Scenarios With Dead-On Accuracy" - Autostraddle (ALSO SPOILERS)

Picnic At Hanging Rock:

  • "For better, and for worse, the 2018 Picnic At Hanging Rock has no compunctions about wrenching up its petticoats and exposing those ankles to the elements." - The AV Club 
  • "Take away the corsets, and the fact that there are horses and not cars, and it’s like, you try and stand up as a woman and be true to who you are. It’s still pretty tough.” - Picnic showrunner Larysa Kondracki to Screen Daily
  • Also from the same piece: "The director went for a Stanley Kubrick-influenced visual style, with heavily saturated colors and carefully composed framing, and a tone that owes something to teen movies of the eighties."
  • "It’s such a feast for the eyeballs… ‘Stylized’ means making it feel high-fashiony, weird, it’s like there’s something a bit ugly about it, in a truthful way." - Picnic actress Lily Sullivan to The Daily Dot
  • "If Weir’s film was a romantic, surreal, shimmering mystery—Twin Peaks by way of John Keats—the new Hanging Rock is a more Gothic work of horror, revealing the rot that permeates the blooms of the Victorian bouquet." - The Atlantic

The saga of the enormous Wrigley's sign

I can vividly picture Times Square in 2018. It's a cesspool of lights and people, truly hideous advertising, and architectural crimes.

But I'm not writing Times Square in 2018. I'm writing it in 1923, and I know it's still a cesspool but damn me if I don't need a little more detail than that, and that is why I spent a solid hour spiraling over the location of the enormous Wrigley's sign.

Here's the story:

One of my characters is visiting a friend. The friend is staying in the Hotel Astor, which existed on the west side of Broadway between 44th and 45th.

 Say a prayer for the Hotel Astor because now it's a 54-story high-rise and I want to die! (Photo:  Shorpy )

Say a prayer for the Hotel Astor because now it's a 54-story high-rise and I want to die! (Photo: Shorpy)

Okay! Let's take a look at my first stab at this, which I wrote during NaNoWriMo this year.

Max had nearly choked on his drink. "Ev, what are you doing here?"

"Came to see you, darling. Can we go, please?" The bartender was starting to notice him with narrowed eyes. The Astor crowd was more restrained, and next to the black-suited men that crowded around the bar Ev stood out like a cheap necklace. What he needed was to speak to Max in private.

Five floors up, Max's room overlooked Times Square and was bright with the light of streetlamps and flashing neon signs. Ev circled in front of the windows while Max poured them a drink.

So this lacks flavor, doesn't it? The interaction with the bartender was driven by the HISTORY FACT ALERT that the Astor bar was a famous meeting place for gay men as long ago as the 1910s, but gay men were expected to congregate at one end of the bar, and straight men at the other, so that nobody got freaky.

My character, Ev, is very visibly queer, and wouldn't be terribly welcome at the Astor bar.

After NaNo I did an edit pass on this part of the book that was largely focused on simplifying the language, and streamlining events.

He walked slowly back towards Times Square and the Astor Hotel. Ev stood out here like a cheap necklace, but he found Max's room all right. It overlooked Times Square from five floors up, and it was bright with the light of street lamps and flashing neon signs. Max was surprised to see him, but let him in and poured him a drink anyways.

I dropped the bartender interaction because it derailed the scene. Instead, we've got a little more focus on the area. But neon and street lamps and blah. It's all so generic. What we need. What we really need.

Is some flavor.

Enter the Wrigley's sign.

This horrible sign came to my attention when I was desperately googling "TIMES SQUARE 1920s" over and over as if I could take the temperature of a place via Google search. Well, you can take the temperature of a place via the New York Public Library, which offered this article. The Changing Face of Times Square is a compressed history full of delicious photos:

 (Photo:  NYPL )

(Photo: NYPL)

 

The Wrigley’s sign seen above was in place from 1917-1924 and was a full block long. Crowds would come just to stare at this sign, and during World War I, it helped to promote war bond sales.


Now that is flavor. My story needed this ENORMOUS WRIGLEY'S SIGN.

 Historical re-enactment of me putting two and two together here.

Historical re-enactment of me putting two and two together here.

A cursory Google search revealed a postcard for a TEN-STORY TALL WRIGLEY'S SPEARMINT GUM ELECTRIC SPECTACULAR SIGN. And where was it?

Why, it extended a full block from 44th to 45th streets on the east side of Broadway.

Okay, but this Wrigley's sign was supposed to be from 1936 and my Wrigley's sign was in 1923. I needed photographic proof of the Wrigley's sign co-existing with the Astor, and I wanted it to be on the east side of Broadway, so help me God.

At this point a reasonable person, seeing that they were mere pages from finishing an edit pass, may have decided to leave the precise historical placement of the Enormous Wrigley's Sign for a time that wasn't 10 p.m the night before a work trip. Not so! I needed the GUM SIGN, BABY.

Of course there's a crucial piece of information missing here, and it's that I already knew where the freaking Wrigley's sign was. 

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It's at this point that I'd like to emphasize that I don't get all my historical info from late-night Google searches, but when I do, I fixate on ephemera for no reason.

So the sign wasn't, as far as I know, perfectly across Broadway from the Astor. But like, good enough, so let's count this as a victory.

Give me the flavor

Here's how the scene turned out after my emotional spiral was over, and I had internalized hundreds of photos of the hotel:

 THE HOTEL ASTOR, BETWEEN 44TH AND 45TH, ON THE WEST SIDE OF BROADWAY.

THE HOTEL ASTOR, BETWEEN 44TH AND 45TH, ON THE WEST SIDE OF BROADWAY.

The Astor was right on Broadway; a French-looking building in bright red brick with stripes of white, and a green roof. It used to be the finest thing in the Square. Now it squatted over the cars and trolleys packed nose-to-tail, and the flashing signs for department stores starched collar shirts, cigarettes, gum, and the latest revue.

Inside, it was still the Astor. Ev stood out here like a cheap necklace.

Max was surprised to see him, but let him in and poured him a drink anyways. It wasn't so noisy up here, but the huge Wrigley's sign across the street washed the room in waves of green light.

"You're closer to your editors here," Ev commented. "But then I suppose you've gotten to enjoy them battering on your door, isn't that right?"

AND SCENE!

As you can see, almost everything changed from my NaNo draft to my current one, except I'm super attached to the description of Ev as a cheap necklace.

What I like about where it ended up is that — hopefully — it says all we need to know about interior of the hotel in two sentences, while also describing my character. This was a rich-ass hotel, with multiple themed ballrooms and fancy restaurants. It had a rooftop garden, because New York is New York and we fucking love rooftops. Presidents partied there.

(And now it's a high-rise! Never forget!!)

Anyway, thanks for joining me on my hell-journey into Google. Don't look up "WRIGLEY'S SIGN TIMES SQUARE 1920s," it's deeply unhelpful and wrong.

 Another shot of the hotel, and the sign to the left.

Another shot of the hotel, and the sign to the left.

Podcast rec: The Bowery Boys

The Bowery Boys podcast first caught my attention this summer, with their short series on New York in the 1920s — but they've been around a hell of a lot longer than that.

This podcast has 255 episodes, all chronicling the history of New York City. The episodes often focus small, on neighborhoods, buildings, or people.

Don't let the number of episodes intimidate you. I've been skipping around to explore the topics and time periods that catch my eye, and it's been a great way to pass the time on my commute, and keep learning when I'm too tired to read. Also of note: each episode has a post on their site with tons of historical pictures and references.

Here are some of my favorite episodes. You'll notice a theme, obviously — I'm currently devouring as much information as I can about the early 20th century. The podcast has been pretty invaluable to me, and I hope you enjoy it too!

Texas Guinan was a total boss who hosted at many illicit nightclubs during the '20s. She is also now my hero.

Listening to this made me want to get all my friends together at a fancy hotel so they could roast the shit out of me.

"Why is it called that?" "Oh God, that's why."

AKA how buckwild can this story get.

Feat. how those tenements worked, which had me pumping my fist and shouting YES, YES THANK YOU.

Which I'm now going to be mad about for the rest of my life?

Another total boss who deserves her own movie.

Organization, part 2

Last time I talked about my bullet journal and how it helps me stay organized. This time, welcome to Trello hell!

As with bullet journaling, I'm not here to say that this is the best and only way to stay organized you gotta try it. It's just a tool that has lent itself to a few of my needs when it comes to writing.

No more talking, let's look at some sexy organization.

What's Trello?

Trello is basically the online equivalent of a wall covered in Post-It notes.

You have a board! On the board you can make columns. Then you organize cards in these columns. The cards can store information and checklists. They can be assigned to people, given due dates, or labelled.

Most importantly, they can be moved around. Right now I use one board for all my writing tasks, but that may change. More on that later.

How Trello helps me

Right now I use Trello to track writing projects three months out. My first three columns are January, February, and March.

Now, my workload isn't super heavy. Under January I have one big thing going on: editing my NaNo 2017 project, which we'll call DTD.

In February, I have a cards for two other ongoing writing projects, as well as a card noting future scenes that I need to write into DTD.

I can see at a glance what I'm going to be working on after my current edits are done. But having those cards in the next month is less overwhelming for me than looking at a big to-do list. I can give myself breathing room by saying there's no expectation for me to tackle all these projects this month.

March is the projected released for Fool For You, where my short story A Spell For Luck will appear. As the date gets closer, I'll start jotting down promo ideas on that card and probably make a checklist for myself with reminders to tweet, post on Facebook, do a giveaway, etc. But again, I don't need to worry about that yet!

What's on a card?

Mild spoilers, I guess.

On the card for my edits, I have a checklist. These are all problems I noted when I was writing DTD, but I couldn't fix them during NaNo. I love checklists, and especially love that Trello's checklists come with a progress bar and the ability to hide completed items.

So, what if I don't finish everything I want to do by the end of January?

Well, I'll just move this card into the February column. Then I rename the "January" column to "April," move it down the row, and start populating it with April tasks. I could add more months, but so far I haven't really needed to. But uh, I do have other columns! Let's see.


It's a resource bank

Wow!

First up, we have my "Tabled" column. These are projects I'm not working on right now. I don't want them floating around in my monthly to-dos and giving me anxiety.

I condensed things ever further by making a card called BOOK GRAVEYARD which is where I keep titles of projects that I'm not totally ready to let go of just yet, but I also don't want to see their horrible little faces on my board reminding me of my failure. They live in the graveyard now, which I'll occasionally open and then grimace at. 

The "Website" column is all upkeep. I keep lists of blog posts I want to write and newsletters I want to send. I curate my reading lists here too, so that when it's time to write them I can remember what books I wanted to include.

In the "References" column I keep useful links. I never use bookmarks, and it's easiest for me to keep writing-related links in the place where I do the rest of my ... writing-thinking ... ya know.

More in-depth editing

I've used Trello for more intensive editing and writing projects before, and it actually worked great. I made a little mock-up of that process.

I would make a board for the book, and then a column where I stored cards corresponding to each chapter. I labelled the chapters with colors corresponding to the character's POV (this was a multi-POV book). On each card I had a chapter summary, what the goal of that chapter was, and a checklist of things I needed to edit — or just things I needed to look out for.

That might have been fact-checking something I was unsure about, or making sure that a character was having the correct emotional reaction.

This system worked really well for me, and I'll probably return to it when my workload is heavier than it is now.

Wrap-up

That's my Trello process! If you're interested in more about my writing process, check out the links below. This is an ever-evolving chaos for me, but it's fun to think about, and hopefully fun to read about too.

Organization, part 1

Around the time I moved to New York, I got Extremely Busy.

I juggled calendars and Trello for work deadlines, Facebook and text messages for hangouts with friends, and an incomprehensible web of Trello, emails, Notes, and Google docs for my writing.

That same year I started bullet journaling. EVERYTHING IS BETTER NOW.

In high school, my planner was a life-saver. I’ve never been good at diaries, but always liked the idea of being able to look back at memories —without the pressure of Finding My Voice as a diarist.

I was attracted to bullet journaling because it took the best part of planners and the bare minimum of keeping a diary.

My first journal was hideous. My second journal was hideous. But through them I found out what ways bullet journaling could help me organize my wacky life. Now in 2018 I’m on my third (but prettiest) journal. I’m by no means a pro. My spreads are messy, and I make mistakes all the time. But here is a run-down of my journal and how it helps me track work, writing, and personal goals. Also anxiety! How fun.

Organization part 2 will be a look at my Trello board. The most erotic sentence ever written.

GOODBYE 2017

I found this spread at Little Coffee Fox and if you think Shelby's journals are intimidating please look at this article about her husband's — it's very cute and that's basically what my first journal looked like too. For readability, the categories here are: top memories from 2017, successes I had, things I would change if I could, what worked, what didn't, and looking ahead to things I can do to make 2018 good.

I didn't do much reflection in my first bullet journals, but one of my goals this year is to be more introspective in a meaningful way. I hope this page will be a fun way to kick that off!

PIXEL MOOD TRACKER

Another spread from Little Coffee Fox! Again, I have never used a mood tracker before but it is so pretty, and seemed like a low-impact way to see if mood tracking is something that works for me. As you can see, I struggled a bit to remember how many days were in each month, despite the fact that I mumbled "thirty days hath September" the entire time I was drawing this.

THAT'S FINE.

HABITS TO GROW/KILL

What's that? Yet another spread from Shelby's 2018 set-up post? Yes. I did this with the same principle as the 2017 reflection page: get some accountability for things that I want to change. I'm not sure how well this one will work out. So far I've done a lot of browsing social media at night, and so much not going to bed before midnight, and every time my 2018 promises are there, staring me in the face ... ah well. 

GOAL TRACKERS

This is my favorite part tbh. What I've added with my 2018 goals is some semi-untrackable promises that I'm making to myself. Some of these could probably go on the habits page, and might later when I finish filling it out.

Reading 40 books is pretty self-explanatory! I'll color in each box as I finish the book, and there's room for (the beginnings of) a list of titles.

My writing goals are almost the same as last year, with some exceptions. I still want to finish a novel — I have a checkbox and a progress bar because I like coloring things in. I've set a goal for two complete short stories. I'll be writing one blog post per month (January, check!), and I'd like to bring video into the mix this year!

The notes below that are inspired by a conversation in QWC. I was considering setting a bi-monthly short story goal for myself. It sounded like a lot, so I asked some prolific writers how they got inspiration and got some great answers (thanks particularly to Edith for the phrase "magic spyglass"). I haven't quite committed to the goal yet but I wrote down my takeaways from the conversation:

  • Creativity is a skill you can train
  • I would want to write these stories without any eye towards publishing them, to free my brain up for experimentation and bad writing. I have a habit of turning my hobbies into jobs, and not starting things unless I have a plan for how they will eventually be THRUST INTO THE WORLD. I think it could be good to just chill out and do some practice projects that will improve my writing and my voice.

Anyway. At the bottom of the page is a graph for the monthly blog posts. I'll fill in a square per post, and if I write more posts in a month, I get to fill in more squares! Love 2 fill in squares.

HOME WISHLIST

Around oh, I don't know, the 2016 election, I became a little bit obsessed with home decor. It's been an interest of mine for a long time, but the confluence of political hell, having money, and my roommate moving out all became a hurricane of I NEED TO MAKE MY HOME THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SAFE SPACE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH.

I uh, only have so much space to work with in my New York apartment, but work with it I shall! I'll continue to add to this list (baskets for cutting boards), but right now my focus is finishing what will be a gallery wall in my living room. Which means I need to make infinite trips to Goodwill looking for frames. Which means it needs to stop snowing. I'm committed.

2018 ACHIEVEMENTS

Obviously this is blank because I haven't done shit, but here is where I'll jot down the good things I did in 2018! IF THERE ARE ANY.

PLACES

I'm VERY excited about this page. I just moved to New York in 2016, so in my old journals I started keeping lists of bars and restaurants that I liked, or cool things to do. My ultimate dream was to glue a fold-out map of New York into the journal and write the list onto the map. I still think that would look really cool, but there are some logistics to figure out.

But when looking up 2018 journaling ideas, I found this recipe bank from, again, Little Coffee Fox. Instead of writing recipe names down on the journal pages, Shelby jots them down on Post-It notes. This lets her store a lot of recipes on only two pages. I realized this would be the perfect way to keep track of places as well!

In my spread, each Post-It note will be an area of New York (i.e., FiDi! East Village!). I'll write down names and short notes on the places I go. This might work, it might not, but either way ... if it doesn't, I can just throw out the Post-Its and try something new! 


MONTH SPREAD

Finally, we're getting to the meat and potatoes. This is my spread for January. You'll notice that I uh, got tired of making lines and I'll do it later I swear, it's gonna look great. This is the first time I've drawn out a calendar — in my old journals I just made a vertical list of numbers corresponding to the days, and jotted down my schedule. I was happy with that, but I wanted to try something new.

Honestly, I really like how visually appealing this is. It was hell to draw but I'm happy with how it looks. I have space for multiple appointments, can arrange them according to time of day, and there's room for more notes in the margins of the month for more nebulous goals.

MEDIA LOG

It ain't pretty but it's functional! I always have trouble remembering what I'm reading and watching. In my old journals, I rectified that by adding a media log. It's pretty simple. I write down whatever I watched and read that week. The item moves week by week, and on the week that I finish it, I put a little X next to its name.

This is helpful because I can cross-reference the media log with my yearly reading goal to make sure I don't miss anything.

I used to split the list up by Reading/Watching but for this journal I'm no longer doing that because I ... can remember whether "Paul Hollywood's Big Continental Road Trip" is a book or a show, thanks.


WEEKLY SPREAD

After much workshopping, this is my favorite weekly format! Nothing too fancy. I write down my tasks for each day, and there's room for further notes on how the day went.

New to me are the boxes at the bottom. Previously I had sections for general notes: what you need to do on one side of the journal, and how the week went on the other. Now I have a small box for weekly to-dos that aren't confined to a specific date (AKA shit I'll never get done, sorry me).

I added a small box for meal planning. I cook a fair bit but I want to do it more and save my ass some money. This is my good faith effort to start planning ahead by deciding beforehand what I want to cook that week, and assigning myself cooking days. We'll see how it goes!

Finally, there's a larger box for reflection on how the week went.

WRAP-UP

Whew! That sounds like a lot now that I've written it down! If you're a regular bullet journaler, you might have noticed that I didn't include a yearly spread. I tried it in my first two journals and it just ... didn't work for me? I would always forget to write things down it, or to look at it, period. So I nixed it. I do have an index though, written on the back of the journal cover.

Materials: Moleskine notebook (thanks bro), extremely shitty metallic calligraphy pens, Huhuhero fine-tip drawing pens. I used a bookmark as a ruler. I'm lazy.

Part 2 of this series will be about my beautiful/hideous Trello board, which is completely writing-focused!

The Rainbow Award results are in!

rainbowbookawardsfinalist.jpg

Sparkwood was a finalist in for Best Bisexual Fantasy Romance in the Rainbow Awards!

This is such awesome news! I really didn't expect it. Thanks Elisa Rolle, who hosts and organizes the whole shebang. This really made my day.

My dude Austin Chant also nabbed the Best Transgender Fantasy Romance award for Peter Darling, and Peter Darling also won Best Cover!

If you want to pick up a copy of Sparkwood it's 20% off the ebook on LT3 right now! If you do, please consider leaving a review when you're done! It's a huge help for visibility.

UPDATE:

Sparkwood is also a winner for Best Debut Bisexual book and a finalist for Best Bisexual Book overall! This is so amazing, thank you so much!

Cheers!